A couple years ago, I bought this book due to the novelty of the author's name. I was delighted to find that it's actually very good. Not only have I read it twice, but I've collected a number of other works by the author.
I'm a fan of the traditional western. Louis L'Amour is one of my all-time favorite authors. I don't care for too many non-traditional westerns (although Ed Gorman's WOLF MOON is a great example of a non-traditional western I loved). This book, while definitely a western, is more of a noir set in the west than a traditional western. Some fans of westerns may not like it, but I love it. Like H.A. de Rosso's .44, which I wrote about a couple of months ago, this book is a western firmly rooted in noir, which is funny because none of Frank Castle's crime novels I've read are half as good a crime novel as this western.
There are certainly the outer trappings of westerns--train robberies, shoot-outs, bandits, and so forth--but the story itself is essentially a vengeance-driven mystery. Gil Denning, for five years, has made a living as a bounty hunter, though he cares nothing for the money it brings in. The only thing he wants is information on the train robbers who, through collateral damage, killed his wife five years earlier, less than a month into their marriage. The mystery arises in that he has no idea who they are--nor does anyone else, until similarities to the crime arise during the course of events in this novel--and he has spent all this time desperately seeking any scrap of information he can find.
The novel reads more like a P.I. story than a western as Denning collects information through informants, bribery and occasional violence, is repeatedly the target of violence himself by people worried he's getting too close to his goal (which would endanger the criminals' current plans, of course) and has not one, but two women (a squeaky-clean angel and a beautiful, but fallen, angel, naturally) fall head over heels for him. But Gil Denning has no time or interest in romance. Vengeance is his only concern.
As I said, I loved the novel. The western elements are mostly cosmetic, but it's a good solid mystery with enough clues that you can figure out the ending by yourself if you're paying attention, although there was one red herring towards the end that made me doubt my (ultimately correct) conclusion for a little while. There's also plenty of action--both the two-fisted and shooting kind--to keep your interested if mysteries aren't your thing.
If you are a hardcore western fan, it might not be your cup of tea, as it doesn't feel like most of the westerns I've read, but if you're a fan of two-fisted, hard-shooting crime stories, I definitely recommend it.
Happy New Year, everyone!
I thought I'd start the year with a little reflection on 2019.
So, here are some accomplishments on the writing front.
The following stories of mine were published:
(Click the links to be whisked away to each piece or where you can buy it)
“Nobody But You,” a crime short story in The Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine, volume 4, number 2, January, 2019
“Shadow’s Angle”, a weird short story (first appearance of exorcist-hitman Azuma Kuromori) in Occult Detective Quarterly #5, February, 2019
“Noose-Hungry,” a western short story (second appearance of Marshal Ernie Farrar) in Crimson Streets Magazine, February, 2019
“Wild Yellow,” a western novelette in StoryHack Magazine #4, August, 2019
“Above Water,” a crime short story in Tough, August, 2019
I also sold my crime novel Burn Me Out to Black Rose Writing and it's currently scheduled for publication the first week of September, 2020. (That sounds so futuristic a date.)
Additionally, I'll be working this year to polish the three novels I finished over the last twelve months: a light novel (YA) sci-fi/martial arts in a modern world where technologically-based magic is a reality; a rural police precedural set here in Vermont in the 90s; and a private eye novel set in 1970s Nevada (not Vegas, if you were wondering).
I hope to have more news on all of those items soon, so check back often.
Happy New Year!
I hope everyone has a chance to relax a little and enjoy the holidays with family and friends.
And I hope the next year is a good one for us all.
If you follow me on twitter, you'll probably notice that I'm a big Louis L'Amour fan. As a western fan in general, how could I not be? He is the best-selling western writer of all time, after all.
That said, I've read many dozens of his books and only run into one or two I didn't really like. This one, though... this is a weird one.
This comes closer to being a disappointment than any L'Amour I've ever come across. It's kind of a mess and honestly feels like two, perhaps even three, half-completed manuscripts hastily stuck together.
The initial tone of the novel changes around 5k in and the terseness, and that strange poetic quality, disappear, replaced by L'Amour's usual voice. That's fine. More bizarre is the fact that L'Amour kept repeating pieces of information over and over - never things that bore repeating, simply thoughts or observations or pieces of characters' backstories. And the manner in which it was done read as if he'd simply forgotten he'd added this information in already. It made for some weird reading to find essentially the same exact passages multiple times in the novel.
The worst problem with the book, however, is the plot.
There are three separate plots going on at once: a revenge plot, an attempt at a mystery (it's a really bad attempt; a child wouldn't be fooled by the things the main character is fooled by), and a "let's steal the ranch!" plot.
None are enough to carry a novel-length work on its own, but together they simply don't mesh.
The main character (dubbed "Passin' Through" when he's asked his name and says "It doesn't matter, ma'am. I'm just passin' through.") is lynched for a self-defense killing, but escapes with the help of an Indian woman and her son. The family of the man he killed (who was trying to kill Passin for fun, something he apparently did quite a lot of) still wants their revenge, so Passin' flees the area.
This leads him to a ranch occupied by two women, both city folk, neither of whom know a thing about ranching. It seems the older of the two inherited the ranch without knowing what ranching even was. Local thugs want to take the ranch, their ringleader believing it rightfully belongs to him and makes multiple attacks against the ranch, trying to drive out the women (and kill Passin').
Into this comes a third plot, about a young woman who has a legal claim on the land, as her uncle owned half of it and half was deeded to her. He uncle was killed under strange circumstances (they really aren't; the mystery is painfully obvious) and is being swindled by a confidence man, slash card shark, slash hired killer who supposedly wants to help her get the ranch back - a killer whom Passin' has had dealings with in the past.
In the end, none of these plots are resolved, really, except the last. The first plot is basically tossed out the window pretty soon after the novel begins and the second and third take over until the last fifteen or twenty pages when the revenge posse show up, chase Passin' into the hills and have a shoot out. They believe they've killed him, take his horse and gear, and he passes out trying to get back to civilization on his own.
He wakes up to find that plots B and C have been resolved without him by a Pinkerton agent (who we see sporadically throughout the novel, sniffing around). In the end, he marries the girl from plot C and ceases to be "just passin' through."
All that said, there are things to enjoy in this book. Some of the interactions between characters are quite enjoyable and some of the fight scenes pretty decent. I could do with a lot less of Passin' Through laying in various places bleeding though (there's a bizarre amount of that).
It's not a terrible novel, but it's not very good, either, and of the close to fifty L'Amour novels I've read, it's definitely the weakest. I hate to say it, but the bizarre mess of this book, and the fact that it was published when he was at quite an advanced age, honestly makes me wonder if someone else slapped this together from bits and pieces of his work and simply had him affix his seal to it, so to speak, or if L'Amour himself was slipping somewhat in his final years.
This one is not actually noir. A lot of sites call it noir, but it's not - it's a JD (juvenile delinquent) movie, from 1955, about a young cop infiltrating a car-theft ring run by a teen gang.
Well, that said, how is it?
It starts off a little deceptively, with some Mamie Van Doren dancing and flirting (with the camera and her co-stars) while a group of kids dance to that new-fangled rock and roll stuff, but then takes a turn to JD-style crime and undercover justice. It's... well, it's not really going into. It's a fairly rote film.
What might interest a few folks, though, are some notable Star Trek connections.
Right near the start:
Yep, that punk leaning on the gas pump is William Campbell, who is quasi-legendary for playing Koloth, on "The Trouble With Tribbles," and reprising the role decades later on DS9 (my favorite ST series).
Also, we have:
A very young John Saxon, who was on Gene Roddenberry's Planet Earth and Strange New World.
The film itself? Skip it.
I revealed the big news last week, that I sold my novel Burn Me Out to publisher Black Rose Writing.
Aside from revising/polishing my final MS, here's some other things in the works.
I'm looking for home for a swamp-noir of 6,000 words featuring a new P.I. character. Currently under consideration by a market which has previously published another of my crime stories.
I'm also looking for home for a flash-fiction crime story of 1,000 words. I've been waiting to hear back for quite some time from a relatively-famous crime fiction market. Fingers crossed...
I'll be polishing up and looking for a home for a new western story of (currently) about 4,500 words as soon as I'm finished with the Burn Me Out polishes. The only markets I know of who pay for western fiction are currently closed, though, so if you know of someone looking, please let me know.
Lastly, some sad news: the Kickstarter for Eight Gunshots was not successful. Published Luke Foster tells us that he has a plan and we will hear more in the New Year. I really love the story I wrote for the anthology, entitled "To Hell With It," so I hope the book sees the light of publication soon.
That's all for now. Enjoy your week, everyone.
That I sold a novel!
My second novel, BURN ME OUT, has just been accepted by a publisher and I couldn't be happier. This is a story I've tried to tell in the past, in different media, that I was never really happy with the final outcome of. It took me a while to realize that I was only hitting the surface of that story and that the only medium that would allow me to fully delve into the story I wanted to tell was prose, where I was free to do whatever I liked in as much depth as I needed.
Now, finally, after a long road, that story is ready to be told to all of you.
Here is the back-cover blurb I've written:
Al Vacarro is a made man, with all the honors and responsibilities that entails. But after a literal lifetime of violence in service to the Castella crime family, Al’s past is catching up with him and neither his present nor any future he can imagine seems to hold any hope for salvation.
For the sake of his family and his very soul, he needs out of "the life."
But how does a man escape the only world he's ever known?
This is a story of blood and desperation, and these are the last twenty-four hours of life as Al knows it.
If that sounds like anything you'd be interested in, keep watching this space for more details.
The novel is set to come out late summer of 2020 from Black Rose Writing.
Stay tuned for more and have a happy holiday!
As some of you probably know, my friend and publisher Sam Gafford unexpectedly passed away over the summer, leaving the future of Ulthar Press, including the magazines it published, in doubt.
Occult Detective Quarterly, which has published both some of my Thomas Carnacki work and the first of my Azuma Kuromori stories, is in the process of relaunching as Occult Detective Magazine. It's still under the guidance of editors John Linwood Grant and Dave Brzeski and the goal is to keep the feel of the magazine the same, including keeping ODQ's numbering.
Cover of Occult Detective Magazine #6.
John recently put up a post about the "new" magazine and included in it excerpts of some pieces from past issues, as well as future issues, including the second of my Azuma Kuromori stories, "Beyond the Faded Shrine Gates," which delves into Kuromori's first encounter with the Other Shore, during his childhood. The story is scheduled for Occult Detective Magazine #7, but you can read the opening right here.
I hope you'll enjoy this excerpt, as well as the other three from other authors that John has made available, and consider buying back issues or maybe even subscribing to future issues. As many of you probably know, small press publishing's lifeblood is readers, especially when it comes to keeping magazines viable.
Recently, I reread Harlan Ellison's first novel, WEB OF THE CITY.
The first time I read this, I was not Harlan Ellison fan. The only one of his novels I'd previously read was THE DOOMSMAN, and I didn't care for it. People kept telling me, "He's a short story guy. Read his short stories." Since that first read, I've found several short stories of Ellison's that are brilliant and I loved. I wanted to revisit this novel and see how it felt in light of my new thoughts on Ellison.
Well, I liked it. It's not brilliant, but it's good.
This was Ellison's first novel, based on a novelette he'd written about the same main character. In fact, the first quarter of the novel is almost word for word the original novelette, except where the novelette ends, Rusty Santoro makes a different choice, leading us to the path that becomes the novel. And it's okay, but it's kind of messy. The novelette's story about juvie gang revenge and posturing doesn't segue especially well into the main story of the novel--which is basically a detective story featuring a J.D. out for revenge--but it works, in a sort of ham-handed kind of way. But it's a first novel, so it's all good. Ellison certainly grew from there.
As when I first read it, it did brought to mind a few questions, such as why Ellison strayed from the crime fiction path. He wrote a number of short stories, but I believe this is his only crime novel and it makes me wonder what kind of writer he'd have become if he stuck with it, instead of branching out to science fiction and fantasy.
I have a feeling that he'd be a writer whose work I'd enjoy more, but I also have a feeling that he wouldn't have made the impact he did on the literary world. Maybe he knew that his future wasn't in crime fiction, but I do wonder what other crime novels a more-polished Ellison the storyteller might have written.
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.